State House Roundup: The Storm Before The Storm

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The governor's memoir may be set to debut at No. 25 on Sunday's New York Times best-seller list, but it was a much shorter read that grabbed the attention of Beacon Hill denizens this week.

And the timing couldn't be more salacious.

Totaling 10 pages, not only were the witness lists for the defense and prosecution in former Speaker Salvatore DiMasi's corruption trial set to start next week much shorter than the governor's book, but, unlike the governor, they provided some political intrigue as well.

Named on the lists were 160 people who could be called to testify — Gov. Deval Patrick, current House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Therese Murray, for starters, as well as officials in every tier of government, from aides and lawmakers to cabinet secretaries and other power brokers who could be asked to reveal uncomfortable secrets under oath and before a jury.

Incidentally, the capitol cafeteria talk these days has been less about whether DiMasi really did it and more about self-interest: Does it have to start now?

As members of the House prepare to converge under the dome for a week of late-night sausage-making to grind out the details of a $30.45 billion spending plan for fiscal 2012, the media's attention will be split between the people's business and a courtroom, where questions will be asked about the integrity with which that business is conducted.

That is, of course, if people can pull themselves away from the pomp and planning of the royal wedding scheduled to go off on Friday for which at least two Boston television stations — WBZ-TV and WHDH-TV — are dispatching correspondents. Choices, choices, choices.


Will the governor be asked to pull back the curtain and give the public a rare glimpse into his direct involvement — or lack thereof — in the decisions and negotiations between the executive and legislative branches of government? Will DeLeo and his chief of staff Jim Eisenberg be pulled away from the House budget debate to participate in another trial for a former speaker?

What does famed Boston chef Todd English, another name on the witness list, have to do with any of this?

"If I'm called, I will attend, I will answer questions truthfully and go back to work," Patrick said Thursday after signing copies of his book at the Prudential Center. "I think everyone is feeling sadly, it's a pretty sad time. But we have a duty."

Given the circumstances, DeLeo had many reasons to ask Boston College Chancellor Fr. Donald Monan on Thursday "to ask God to bring peace and harmony to all the members of the House, and especially me" on the eve of House budget week.

His request for spiritual guidance came as he unveiled, in legislation form, his already stated plans to reorganize the Trial Court by placing a civilian administrator in charge of non-judicial operations, and requiring probation applicants to pass a test before being interviewed by jobs.

Unsurprising was DeLeo's resistance to merging the Probation and Parole departments within the executive branch, as requested by Patrick. But even as Patrick's handpicked leader of the judiciary, SJC Chief Justice Roderick Ireland, stood next to DeLeo to support the speaker's plan, the governor insisted he was not giving up.

Admirable, maybe? Futile, more likely, given that the administration could muster little more than Public Safety Secretary Mary Beth Heffernan to support the governor's plan at a hearing last month, but one can never be sure when there's bargaining involved.

Perhaps no issue more pressing for the speaker, however, was the uproar among organized labor and the potential for parlor revolt over the DeLeo's plan to strip unions of some of their collective bargaining rights in an attempt to give cities and towns a way to curb rising health insurance costs.

DeLeo's plan to reform municipal health insurance by allowing managers to unilaterally set co-pays and deductibles requires that only 10 percent of the achieved savings go back to employees through other benefits, a far cry from the union request 50 percent.

To further complicate the dynamics, Rep. Martin Walsh — himself a professional union official — heads a list of least 50 Democratic lawmakers, including six of DeLeo's hand-picked committee chairs, lining up behind a budget amendment to thwart DeLeo's reform plan.

The alternative being offered by Walsh more closely resembles the plan proposed by Patrick this session — and one that has cleared the Senate twice only to die in conference committees — the recommends expedited bargaining and binding arbitration for health benefit concessions.

Murray, who slipped away to Finland this week while the attention was on the House, has yet to weigh in the House's municipal health proposal. Though without reading the details, she expressed a modicum of surprise two weeks ago about how far DeLeo appeared willing to go.

As the Senate waited and watched, Murray checked in from Helsinki, pleased with the partnerships being formed between biotechnology industry leaders in Massachusetts and Finland, a small country near the Scandinavian peninsula with a population of about 1 million fewer people than the Bay State.

According to Murray, by partnering with Finnish life sciences and medical device companies on research and development, Bay State firms could soon become eligible for European Union grants.

At an exchange rate of $1.45 to the euro, that could be a pretty good deal.

STORY OF THE WEEK: House under pressure.

This program aired on April 22, 2011. The audio for this program is not available.